If you’re thinking that live bunnies are as sweet and static as the chocolate kind, think again.
They’re high maintenance, they have specific health issues and some will even growl at you when they’re angry or irritated.
That’s right. Growl. Like a cat or a dog.
Just ask Tammy Wilford. The Zachary resident has been raising rabbits for 14 years, first in Dayton, Ohio, when her daughters wanted rabbits as pets. Then she moved to Louisiana, where she raised and sold them.
Now she has only one, a 3-year-old mini rex she calls Diamond LaTara. You may have seen Diamond on several WAFB-TV newscasts or at different events. Wilford dresses her in costumes for every holiday and occasion.
And though she’s cute, Diamond LaTara, like all pets, has her own personality traits.
Yes, she does growl at Wilford when agitated. And she hides when she doesn’t want to be bothered.
She also has traits that are characteristic to all rabbits, which, Wilford said, is most important when considering a rabbit as a pet — especially when thinking about giving a child a bunny for Easter.
“You have to do your research,” Wilford said. “A lot of rabbits end up in shelters, because people don’t understand how to care for them. But when it comes to a child, a young child, they have to be strictly supervised. A parent can’t leave that child on their own to take care of a bunny because they think it’s so cute.”
First and foremost, prospective bunny owners must understand a rabbit’s dietary needs.
“People are under the assumption that carrots and lettuce are the best things for rabbits,” Wilford said. “Not for domestic rabbits. Carrots are too sweet, and too many of them can be fatal. They can cause the rabbit to go into gastrointestinal stasis — GI stasis.”
So, in the days when she sold baby rabbits, Wilford made sure her customers were up on their research.
“I had a lot of bunnies then, and I got attached to them, so before I would sell one, I’d ask the person, ‘Hey, look, are you ready?’ ” Wilford said. “I’d tell them, ‘This is what they eat; this is what they don’t eat. Take care of them, because they’re very fragile.’ ”
So, what’s the best diet for a rabbit?
“It’s 80% hay,” Wilford said. “And the reason for that is because it’s good for their digestive system. Their system can’t be without food for over 12 hours. Hay also helps them with their teeth, because their teeth continuously grow.”
The other 20% of a rabbit’s diet should consist of pellets.
“They’re only supposed to have a fourth of a cup of pellets, because they can become overweight if they have too much,” Wilford said. “So, you mix the pellets and the hay, along with some long leafy green vegetables like romaine lettuce. But you can only give them a minimal amount of lettuce.”
Lettuce contains too much water, and large amounts can cause diarrhea.
“You can also give them a little treat,” Wilford said. “But that also has to be in moderation. They love a banana. And when they really like something, they quiver, and a person who has a bunny needs to know that in case they think something’s wrong. But when you give them a treat one day, the next day you don’t.”
As for their personalities, rabbits are social creatures, craving their humans’ company.
“So, when you give a bunny to a child as an Easter present, you think it’s cute,” Wilford said. “But when it reaches a certain size, the child may lose interest, and it’s let out in the backyard and neglected, because it’s high maintenance.”
That’s when rabbits are susceptible to predators or end up in animal shelters.
“They’re the No. 3 animals in shelters behind dogs and cats,” Wilford said. “I’m not saying it’s a bad idea to give a child a rabbit for Easter. It’s just that the parents need to be on board with it and know what they’re getting into. You must do your research.”
Part of that research is knowing possible diseases to which rabbits are susceptible.
“They’re prone to eye diseases and anything that cats and dogs are prone to,” Wilford said. “So, it’s a good idea to get pet insurance. You just have to be aware of the different things that can happen with the rabbit.”
And if you’re not paying attention to them, rabbits can become depressed.
“They’re lovable, sociable animals,” Wilford said. “So, you can’t just get one for Easter, then after Easter, it’s over. If you lose interest, they get sad. They want love, and they want to be interactive.”
Part of that interaction involves toys. Rabbits, just like dogs, like playing with their own toys, and Wilford even challenges Diamond LaTara.
“I purchased these IQ toys that are for dogs and for cats, and she’s mastered them,” she said. “I take a lot of time with her. She’s my emotional support pet. There’s just so many things that people need to know.”
People need to know that though rabbits self-groom, they need to be brushed to avoid hairballs. Unlike cats, rabbits are unable to regurgitate hairballs, which could eventually block their digestive systems.
Rabbits also can be taught to use litter boxes. Spaying and neutering will make litter box training easier.
They also have other characteristics of which to be aware.
“You can’t frighten them,” Wilford said. “They can’t bear a lot of noise. It stresses them out. When you stress them out, it can send them into GI stasis.”
This is only the tip of the iceberg in rabbit ownership. Wilford said there’s so much more to know.
“The best way to learn is research,” she said. “Always do your research, and a lot of it, before getting a rabbit. There’s a lot of joy, but there’s also a lot of responsibility that goes with it.”